Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

deathAlways a tense time to be reviewing a second book from an author whose debut you absolutely loved. Anna Jaquiery’s haunting debut The Lying Down Room was a joy to read and review, so much so that it was second in my Top Read of 2014, and is one of the books that I most consistently recommend in my day job as a bookseller, when people are looking for a new slice of Euro crime.

Death In The Rainy Season is the next book to feature Jaquiery’s charismatic and thoughtful French detective Commandant Serge Morel, and marks a change of location from France to the hot climes and unique atmosphere of Cambodia, where the modern socio-economic problems of this country are counterbalanced by its spiritual core. Morel is taking a well-earned sojourn after the vents of the previous book, a welcome break from caring for his father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and a chance to further come to terms with a failed relationship. He finds himself unwillingly drawn into a local murder investigation, when the son of a prominent French minister is found murdered in a down-at-heel hotel room. The victim, Hugo Quercy, oversees a local NGO providing charitable support to street children, and is generally a well-regarded figure in the local community, and  respected by his colleagues. However, as Morel under pressure from his boss back home, joins forces with local Police Chief Chey Sarit, also enlisting the help of grumpy local medical examiner Sok Pran, it quickly becomes clear that Quercy is not quite the man everyone had perceived him to be, and that the conspiracy behind his murder reaches further than Morel and his cohorts could possibly imagine…

Perhaps my first point of reference for my enjoyment of this book should be an appreciation of Jaquiery’s style of writing. Throughout the novel the sense of serene simplicity that her narrative style evokes in the reader is beautifully evinced not only in her evocation of location, but also through the character of her police protagonist Morel. The multi-dimensional facets of the Cambodian setting are sublimely juxtaposed, as Jaquiery carefully balances not only the deep spiritual core of this intriguing country, with the social ramifications of political corruption and misguided economic policies on the Cambodian populace. Where some authors blatantly crowbar in the depth of their research at the expense of the needs of the plot to keep the reader’s interest, Jaquiery intertwines her social detail simply, adding to the richness of the strong central plot, and I learnt much from the quality of this research.

As Morel becomes immersed in the pulsating and bustling atmosphere of Phnom Penh after his initial calm retreat in Siem Reap with its ancient temples and traditional way of life, the sights and sounds of the city form a vital backdrop to his investigation. Likewise, the change of location impacts on Morel himself, as he wanders deeper into the underbelly of the city, and the pressure of the investigation and the demands of home, begin to unsettle his formerly peaceful equilibrium. He is a mesmerising character throughout and one cannot fail to find him empathetic, morally strong and entirely likeable. As he deals with the wife, friends, and colleagues of the victim, whilst slowly establishing a close working relationship with his Cambodian counterpart Sarit, the strength of his character always stands front and centre. Sarit too was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book, as his initial reticence and secrecy at the beginning of the investigation is slowly broken down by his interaction with Morel, and brings instead a sense of understanding and respect between the two men. We share in their frustrations as the investigation progresses, and I loved the slow reveal of the various dynamics of Quercy’s relationships with the possible suspects, and the gradual unfolding of Quercy’s true character as the man behind the myth.

I really cannot fault Death In The Rainy Season in any way, as it contains so many aspects of human interest, emotion, and intrigue along the way. Not only is it a intelligent and compelling tale of murder and corruption, but the quality of the writing and the evocation of its setting and characters make it a rich, multi-layered and totally rewarding piece of crime fiction. I am singularly impressed once again, as I was with The Lying Down Room, and have no hesitation in wholly recommending this one too.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

9780241965641With the current trend in domestic noir exerting a firm grip on the crime genre at the moment, I must confess that I have started and failed to finish a number of recent offerings. Having recently taken part in the blog tour for Unravelling Oliver  by Liz Nugent, my interest was, however, piqued by this one, reading the first chapter over five days on five blogs. Billed as being similar in style to both Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine (two authors that I admire greatly) I did embark on this book with some excitement, so how did it fare?

The book opens with a snapshot of a violent attack by a husband, successful children’s author, Oliver Ryan on his docile wife Alice, who illustrates his aforementioned books. Their marriage has seemingly been one of relative comfort and bliss, so how on earth can such a violent event have come to pass? The novel then takes us back through five decades to chart the events of Oliver’s life, leading up to this point, through his own eyes, and through the viewpoint of other people he encounters along the way. As we become immersed in the formative years and experiences of Oliver Ryan, it turns out that there is much more to him than Alice or others have ever seen, and as his past catches up with him, will we ever truly unravel the mystery of Oliver?

This is a relatively slim read, so much so that I read the book in two sittings, but what Nugent so effectively does throughout the book, is make it practically impossible to put down. With the changing narrative voices, each melds seamlessly together, revealing the mercurial Oliver as a human prism, of different moods and motivations, so you are practically champing at the bit to find out piece by piece as to how his character has been shaped by events. There is a glorious sense of claustrophobia to Nugent’s authorial style, so reminiscent of both Highsmith and Vine, so this comparison is more than justified. Nugent subtly manipulates our perception of Oliver throughout, both in her characterisation of him, and in the reportage of other more empathetic characters that provide a deeper insight into his psyche. The story pivots between Ireland and France (the scene of some particularly unsettling events) as the story of Oliver develops, sweeping us effortlessly from one location to the other. This provides an opportunity for us to see Oliver from all sides be it through his unsettled childhood, his life as a relatively carefree graduate, and his later success as an ostensibly happily married man with a solid career as an author. As each delineation of his life unfolds, with a good dose of human tragedy, his disregard for the feelings of others (particularly potent in his ‘stealing’ of Alice from all round good-egg Barney), and a strong sense of psychopathic leanings in his psyche, Oliver is revealed as a fascinating character, and sure to manipulate your sympathies. The novel also providing an intriguing exploration of the old adage of nature vs nurture, as the harsh reality of Oliver’s gradually familial connections come to light.

I think Liz Nugent is to be congratulated in producing such a well formed, compelling and utterly intriguing psychological thriller, little wonder that reviewers everywhere have been so effusive in their praise. The assured narrative, the engaging cast of characters, the seamless changes of location, and a series of perfectly well-placed reveals, leads to an immensely satisfying read. I heartily recommend this one…

 

*COVER REVEAL* Tim J. Lebbon- The Hunt

Hunt Front CoverTHE HUNT
She will hunt down the men who took her family. She will have blood. Rose is the one that got away. She was the prey in a human trophy hunt organised by an elite and secret organisation for bored super-rich clients seeking a unique thrill. She paid a terrible price – when she escaped The Trail murdered her family. Every moment since she has been planning her revenge. Watching, waiting …And now her day has come.

Chris returns from his morning run to find his wife and children missing and a stranger in his kitchen. He’s told to run. If he’s caught and killed, his family go free. If he escapes, they die. Rose is the only one who can help him, but Rose only has her sights on one conclusion. For her, Chris is bait. But The Trail have not forgotten the woman who tried to outwit them. The Trail want Rose. The hunters want Chris’s corpse. Rose wants revenge, and Christ just wants his family back.

The hunt is on…

The Hunt, published by Avon,  will be available in e-book on 18th June (pre-order here ) with the paperback release scheduled for 16th July.

TIM J LEBBON is a New York Times-bestselling writer with over thirty novels published to date, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories.  Recent releases include The Silence, Coldbrook, Into the Void: Dawn of the Jedi (Star Wars), Reaper’s Legacy, and Alien: Out of the Shadows.  He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and been shortlisted for World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson awards.  A movie of his story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, will be released soon, and other projects in development include My Haunted House, Playtime, and Exorcising Angels.

He has had around 20 novellas published and hundreds of short stories, steadily building a dedicated following among the horror & dark fiction community.  A movie of his short story PAY THE GHOST was filmed last year in Toronto, starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies, directed by Uli Edel. He is also working on two TV series ideas, as well as a new original screenplay.

He has won 4 British Fantasy Awards (3 for Best Novella, one for Best Novel), a Bram Stoker Award and a Scribe Award.  He has also been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award multiple times, the World Fantasy Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @timlebbon

Bernhard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

ber Billed as a tantalising combination of Dexter, Kill Bill and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, here for your delectation and delight, is another highly enjoyable slice of European crime fiction. Focussing on the character of Blum, the widowed mother of two young daughters, and the owner of a funeral home, The Woman of the Dead, is a singularly intriguing thriller, that opens with an extremely unsettling scene eight years previously, and then transporting us to the present to a scene of domestic bliss. This picture of homely comfort- a mother, father and two young daughters- is then forcibly shattered when Blum’s police officer husband, Mark, is killed on the road outside of their home, in an apparent hit-and-run. Fighting against the tidal wave of loss this produces, Blum discovers through a series of her husband’s recordings of an interview with a young immigrant woman, that his death is inextricably linked to his investigation into this young woman’s experiences as a formerly imprisoned sex slave. What Blum further discovers is that the men who are guilty of this abuse are notable figures in the local community, and with revenge boiling hard in her veins, Blum seeks to track down this woman, and exact revenge on her abusers, and her husband’s killer. Blum’s role as the avenging angel is clear to see, but what of her own murky past and the secrets she carries within? It was gratifying to see that Aichner had spent six months as an undertaker’s assistant to add credence to the more visceral details of the story, as there is a wonderfully sensitive handling of the everyday business of Blum’s handling of the dead. This sensitivity is beautifully balanced with Blum’s one woman bloody mission to track down and punish her husband’s killer or killers, where her retribution is swift and uncompromising. This is a brutal, and unrelenting read, peppered with vivid scenes of violent that by turns shock and jolt the reader, and with the added frisson of many of these being committed by a woman, the shock value intensifies. Despite the more graphic details (which some readers may struggle with) I was not unduly disturbed by them, and found the balance between Blum’s family life and professional standing, was perfectly weighted with this completely opposite picture we get of her. She is a completely intriguing character, encompassing a blend of strong morality which is then shaken by the slowly revealed less savoury aspects of her past, giving the reader a multi-faceted woman, who will challenge your empathy, as your opinion of her will undoubtedly change and change again as the book progresses. As I have said Aichner pulls no punches where the subject of sexual and physical violence arises, and this merely compounded for me his wider comment on the subject of sex-trafficking and abuse that young women immigrants can encounter in their search for a better life. The fact that Blum as a woman, later aided by Reza an employee at the funeral home, who himself has a back story of violence and immigration, adds a karma-like feel to their pursuit of the guilty, compounding the intensity of Aichner’s sociological observations on the plight of immigrants throughout Europe. It’s a strong message, strongly delivered, of the damaging effects, and the all too common danger and violence that these protagonists encounter, adding again to the power and intensity of the book. Likewise, the simple and dispassionate feel to Aichner’s prose, heightens the emotionally intense and claustrophobic feel to the novel. Perhaps a nod to the translator Anthea Bell is warranted here for the exact and compelling translation that fuels this intensity throughout. I am a huge fan of spare, pared down prose and curtailed dialogue, more commonly observed in American crime fiction, and so this was a eminently satisfying style for me. Overall, this was a brave, unsettling, but hugely compelling crime thriller that I can’t recommend highly enough if you are of stout heart and stomach. European crime fiction at its best. Bernhard Aichner was born in 1972 and lives in Innsbruck, Austria, where he works as an author and photographer. Visit his website here  Anthea Bell has won numerous awards for her translations. Best known for her translation of the Asterix series, Bell was awarded an OBE in 2010 for services to literature. (With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Helen Giltrow- The Distance

GILTROW

They don’t call her Karla anymore. She’s Charlotte Alton: she doesn’t trade in secrets, she doesn’t erase dark pasts, and she doesn’t break hit-men into prison. Except that is exactly what she’s been asked to do. The job is impossible: get the assassin into an experimental new prison so that he can take out a target who isn’t officially there. It’s a suicide mission, and quite probably a set-up. So why can’t she say no?

Can I just start by saying how I would love to fling my arms around Helen Giltrow and give her a jolly good hug. And here’s why. Over the course of the last couple of months, I have started and failed to finish at least half a dozen thrillers, soon becoming bored with the all too familiar set-ups, and predictable plots. What Giltrow has done is to construct an intelligent and thought provoking thriller that not only provided a slow-burning build up of tension, but was chockful of credible characters, and a tightly plotted narrative that never once made my attention falter. I was in this one all the way…

Starting with the intriguing premise of breaking someone into an experimental prison complex called The Program, to perform a hit, I was instantly intrigued by the depiction of this location. The Program works as an almost self-sufficient prison community, constructed around a run down neighbourhood of houses with its own places of business and rules, but is a nightmarish place to be incarcerated if you are not aligned with the head honchos. Hence, the idea of a professional hitman, Johanssen  needing to be placed within this complex to track down someone who may or may not be there, instantly provokes a taut tension to the story. With his actions overseen by the mysterious intelligence operative Charlotte Alten aka Karla, who has spent years selling secrets to shady criminals. Giltrow neatly builds up Karla’s reservations and fears for her former client Johanssen’s safety as he becomes a brutalised inmate of this violent jail- an excellent cast of baddies are at work here- seeking to avoid detection by those he has tangled with in the past. The depiction of his experience are violent and uncompromising, but this adds to inherent tension of the plot, as Johanssen seeks the elusive Cate, but why is she so hard to find and who wants her dead?

Alongside this taut and utterly riveting storyline, Giltrow ramps up the narrative structure with an exploration of Karla’s chequered career in the realm of secret intelligence, and weighting both plots perfectly, Giltrow retains an assured grasp throughout. Attention must be paid I found as this book in no way resembles the usual linear, and frankly quite boring, liturgy of espionage thrillers that currently populate crime and thriller sections throughout the land. Indeed, to my mind, the style of Giltrow’s writing can be viewed as a contemporary version of Helen MacInnes, which is no mean feat. Likewise, the characterisation of Karla herself, and Johanssen, are absolutely paramount to the engagement of the reader. Both are incredibly well-drawn with the necessary balance of steely-eyed determination, masking their dark secrets and ulterior motives, but with those wonderful moments of clarity that draw us closer to their true characters, despite their criminal tendancies. These are not your standard cardboard-cutout characters, and you will find your perception of both changing chapter by chapter, and I guarantee that Cate will also have you on tenterhooks throughout, as her life outside and inside The Program come under closer scrutiny. That’s all I’m saying…

As you can probably tell, I was really quite keen on this, and despite how long it has taken me to get round to reading the book, it was more than worth the wait and delivered in spades. Can’t wait to see what Giltrow produces next. Highly recommended.

Helen Giltrow was born and brought up in Cheltenham and read Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford. She has worked extensively in publishing, including ten years as a commissioning editor for Oxford University Press. She went freelance as an editor in 2001 and has since worked on a range of fiction, non-fiction and education titles. THE DISTANCE is her first novel. Helen’s writing has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award and the Telegraph ‘Novel in a Year’ Competition. Follow on Twitter @HelenGiltrow

Blog Tour- Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver- #MeetOliver – Extract 3

CCI0PtgW4AA3BbkIt’s day three of the special ‘Meet Oliver’ blog tour, which gives readers the chance to sample the first chapter of Liz Nugent’s debut crime thriller, Unravelling Oliver, across five blogs in five days.  Following on from yesterday’s extract at Keith B Walters’ site, the story continues here, with the next extract tomorrow at  The Welsh Librarian …

“My wife had finally brought out the worst in me. It was most unexpected. I had always been fond of her, in my way. She was a marvellous cook, for example, after all the gourmet cuisine courses I made sure she attended. Also, she could be very athletic in bed, which was nice. It is terribly sad to think of such things now, considering her current state.

We met at the launch of a book she had illustrated back in 1982. My agent wanted me to meet her with a view to her doing the illustrations for a children’s book I had written that he was pushing around to publishers. I resisted the idea of illustrations initially. They would just distract from my text, I thought, but my agent, I admit it, was right. The drawings made my books far more marketable. We were introduced and I like to think there was an immediate . . . something. Spark is not the right word, but an acknowledgement of sorts. Some people call that love at first sight. I am not so naïve.

Neither of us was in the first flush of youth. Both in our late twenties, I think. But she was lovely in a soft way. I liked her quietness and she made few or no demands on me. She just accepted whatever attention I gave her, and then withdrew into the background without complaint when I did not require her presence.

The wedding happened very quickly. There was nothing to be gained by hanging about. Her frail mother and half-witted brother stood behind us at the altar. No family on my side, of course. We didn’t bother with the palaver

of a hotel reception. We had a rowdy meal in a city-centre bistro owned by a former college friend, Michael. Barney was there. Back then I quite liked him. He was very emotional at the wedding, more than anybody else. One couldn’t blame him, I suppose.

We rented a spacious flat in Merrion Square for a few years. I insisted on a big place because I needed privacy to write. I can only write behind a locked door.

Those were good times. We made a bit of money when nobody else did. It made financial sense that we would collaborate on what was becoming quite a successful series. During the day we would retreat to our separate corners to work. Me, producing my books. She, cleverly matching pictures to my words. She was good at it too. Her work flattered mine appropriately.

I became quite well known as a critic and occasional scribe for the weekend newspapers and for an infrequent guest spot on televised chat shows. In those days, everyone was more discreet and low key about their achievements, their successes. Not like current times – I can’t tell you how often in the last decade I was approached about partaking in a ‘reality’ show. Heaven forbid. Alice avoided all of that, which suited me really. She did not like the limelight and she underestimated her own contribution to the success of my books, insisting that my work was more important, that she was just a doodler. She was timid and didn’t even want it known that we were a husband and wife team in case she would be ‘forced on to the telly’. Rather sweet, and it meant that for a lot of the time I could continue my life as a seemingly single man. It had its rewards. Truthfully, she could not have been a better helpmate….”

 

9780241965641Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel. Visit her website here and join in the chat on Twitter #meetoliver